NEW YORK -- In preparation for its opening on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, free timed tickets to visit the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the World Trade Center will be available online starting Monday .
The eight-acre memorial, which includes two deep pools replicating the footprint of the twin towers, will be dedicated on Sept. 11 and open to the public the following day. Names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks will be inscribed on bronze panels around the pools.
Signup for the timed-entry passes will be via the memorial's website, 911memorial.org, beginning 9 a.m. Monday. The site will allow times to be reserved up to six months in advance.
"The idea is that when people are planning their visits to New York City, we think this is going to be a place everyone is going to want to come down to and pay their respects,'' Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, said Thursday. "It's a place to sit and contemplate a space the public has not set foot on in 10 years.''
As at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., there will be information on locating individual names on the panels surrounding the two pools. Similarly, visitors will be allowed to leave flowers or other remembrances. "This is a ritual of this country and we're going to observe it,'' Daniels said.
Access to the memorial will be limited because it is surrounded by construction on the remainder of the 16-acre trade center site: four office towers, including the 1,776-foot-tall building originally called the Freedom Tower, a transit hub and the 9/11 Museum. Visitors will line up at a plaza being constructed at the southeast corner of the site, then walk to an orientation and security screening center and into the memorial at the southwest corner. Access is expected to remain limited for three years, Daniels said.
The entry plaza and pathway to the screening center and memorial entrance are currently under construction. "We're racing, in a very safe way, but racing to get this done for 9/12,'' Daniels said. Security screening will be similar to that at other public sites, such as the Statue of Liberty, he said. "During this period when it's a construction site, it is constrained access, it is a place that has been attacked twice, the feeling was we need to do some screening.''
The cost of the entry plaza, sidewalks and screening center is $16 million but the memorial faces a $3 million shortfall in funds to pay for it, memorial officials say. The memorial foundation, the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, are negotiating how to cover the gap, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said.
Memorial officials say the site's capacity is about 1,500 people at once and they expect 4 million visitors during the first year. About a quarter of the memorial plaza will remain off-limits to visitors due to continuing construction of the transit hub adjacent to the memorial.
Families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks can reserve passes through a dedicated phone line, and 500 families have already done so, said Michael Frazier, memorial spokesman. A private entry and security check in the screening area will be set aside for families.
The memorial will also hold special visiting hours for neighborhood residents and for firefighters and police officers who responded to the 9/11 attack. "That's going to be pretty special, to have thousands of men and women paying respects at the memorial that is such a big part of their history,'' Daniels said.
Bus tour companies will get allotments of memorial passes at times designed to keep heavy tour bus traffic out of the congested area during peak traffic hours, Frazier said.
Although the online signup for passes gives users the ability to make a donation to the memorial and museum, "it is not required and it is not suggested,'' Frazier said; the timed entry passes are free.
The September 11 Museum, which is scheduled to open in September 2012, will have an entry fee - either a suggested donation or a set price, which could be as high as $25. The annual cost of operating the memorial and museum is estimated to be $60 million, some of which could be covered by federal funds and private fundraising, Daniels said. "I don't think people will be surprised that to put on these exhibits and teach this history, it requires funding.''